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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Two medical tracts on the diseases of women

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The two main texts in this manuscript have a shared theme and may have had a common readership in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England, but are preserved here in two parts that were produced separately from one another before being bound together at some later date. The two texts are gynaecological treatises, each with connections to the 'Trotula' group of texts that emerged from southern Italy, most probably Salerno, during the twelfth century, these being: <div><i>Liber de sinthomatibus mulierum</i> ('The Book on the conditions of comen')<br /><i>De curis mulierum</i> ('Treatments for women')<br /><i>De ornatu mulierum</i> ('Women's cosmetics')<br /></div><br /> The first text in MS Ii.6.33, <i>The Boke of Rota</i>, is a translation into Middle English of chapters from the <i>Liber de sinthomatibus mulierum</i> and <i>De curis mulierum</i>. The second, known as <i>The Knowing of Woman's Kind in Childing</i>, is based on selections from a French translation of <i>Liber de sinthomatibus mulierum</i>, the <i>Non omnes quidem</i> (mostly derived from Muscio's <i>Gynaecia</i>), the <i>Gynaecia</i> of pseudo-Cleopatra, and other sources, with (in Monica Green's words) 'considerable theoretical embellishments by the translator-adaptor' (Green (1997), p. 85). Both <i>The Boke of Rota</i> and <i>The Knowing of Woman's Kind in Childing</i> cleave to the tenets of Hippocratic gynaecology, such as the recognition of the benefits of sexual activity and menstruation, or the theory of the 'wandering womb'.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The material history of the manuscript has been obscured somewhat by the rebinding and repair of the volume. It is clear that the manuscript comprises two discrete parts: both are written on paper but of different stocks. The copying of the first dates to the sixteenth century and the second to the fifteenth century. The first part comprises two quires, originally of 18 leaves each. The first leaf of Quire 1 was perhaps a former pastedown, which has been excised when the manuscript was rebound. A stub before the beginning of Quire 2, and the absence of any interruption to the text, suggests that the 1st leaf was cancelled. The second leaf, now f. 18, has no conjoint leaf. The 17th and 18th leaves of Quire 2, to which the 1st and 2nd leaves would have originally been attached, are no longer present. It is possible, however, that these are in fact ff. 2:37-38, which appear to be from the same paper stock and bear notes by the same hand that was responsible for copying the text in the first part of the manuscript. This hand is nowhere to be found in the second part of the manuscript, which points to the two parts (their shared subject-matter notwithstanding) having been produced entirely separately and only bound together at a later juncture, rather than the second part being already in someone's possession and the first part being copied with the deliberate intention that the two be bound together. The damage that these leaves (ff. 2:37-38) have suffered, however, is of the same pattern as those towards the end of the second part of the manuscript, suggesting that they have been bound in this location for a lengthy period of time. The status of f. 39 is less clear, however. It too is of the same paper stock, so originally belonged with the leaves of the first part of the manuscript, but is more likely a remnant of an endleaf, pastedown or wrapper than part of either Quires 1 or 2.</p>The manuscript was placed into its current binding in 1974. It appears that it was at this point that it was separated from MS Ii.6.34, with which it had been bound in 'paper boards' (according to an unpublished description by M.R. James) since at least the publication of a catalogue of the University Library's manuscripts in 1858, when the two were described as being in a single volume. However, earlier records of these two manuscripts show that this was not always the case. The two are recorded separately - and must therefore have been physically discrete items - in the list of the contents of the library of John Moore (1646-1714), bishop of Ely, published in 1697 by Edward Bernard. Moore's manuscripts (and printed books) came to Cambridge University Library in the year after his death, at the gift of George I, and the two were presumably bound together by the Library at some later juncture.<p style='text-align: justify;'></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr James Freeman<br /> Medieval Manuscripts Specialist<br /> Cambridge University Library</p>

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